- Chapter 5: Stagefright

The next day, I returned to class. After the relatively zany events of the weekend, it was a welcome change, and I was happily oblivious to the rumors swirling about my relationship with Haruhi, the news of Miss Asakura's disappearance, and the subsequent murmurings of every possible type you could imagine. I might have assumed everything was back to normal except that Haruhi was still in the desk beside mine, and still as melancholy as she was on the bus ride home. It was still very disorienting, and I told myself that she had become disappointed that we didn't end up eating bigfoot burgers (as she had become fond of aiming at the previous week).

The many bizarre revelations of aliens, espers, time travelers... I was also happily deferring how to approach that for a later time. The substance of the arguments was too compelling for me to flat out deny, yet it still seemed unsafe for me to remove the words "self-described" from their titles. I also realized that none of them had ever actually described themselves that way. Nagato had told me that she was a "humanoid interface," and you could view that as an alien, though she was only really alien in the sense that she had information that was impossible to acquire in conventional ways. Koizumi had admitted to me that his powers only really exist "between" dimensions (a horribly perverse concept in itself), and Miss Asahina had never admitted to being a time traveler (though I'd have to be pretty dense not to notice).

It would have been easier to dismiss such wild and unreasonable claims had they insisted that it was true, and the very uncertainty of it all was the only thing that made me even consider it. I've always felt that beauty and truth are impossible to discover in this world in the same particular place and time. If you do discover truth, it's nearly always in the ugliest way possible. This was what made me reluctant to accept their claims. If their claims were correct, then it was inescapable that their purposes were to uncover truths. Nagato never made any secret to me of her aims, Koizumi constantly left open whatever questions he felt uncomfortable with, and what else could a time traveler from the future want with the past?

Speaking of Miss Asahina, I had a lovely encounter with her when I began to go to the club room, that afternoon. The thought of spending the next hour or so with Haruhi was weighing on my mind, and seeing Miss Asahina considerably lifted my spirits. Whatever it is you guys are doing in the future to make a girl this cute, I sincerely hope you keep it up. This definitely reflects well on you. As for Miss Asahina herself, you could hardly dream of a more perfect girl to want for a friend. And even the thought of making a friend like her was hard to imagine. You certainly wouldn't expect it.

Nevertheless, she approached me as though she knew me, and we began softly chatting about school and the silly rumors that had been going around (the not-so-silly rumors I heard from Taniguchi some time later).

I immediately apologized at the first opportunity. "Sorry about the board game, the other day," I said. An apology just seemed like the first obligatory thing to say of any real significance.

"Oh, no!" she nicely rejected it. "That's quite okay. I didn't really mind."

I then remarked, "We never had a chance to speak, after that."

"I know," she said. "Things got so busy and carried away, what with the bigfoot and all."

I then continued toward the club room, and Miss Asahina promptly followed.

"You're going this direction?" I asked.

"This is the way to the Literature Club, right?" she asked me.

I was then torn between the idea that this girl might want to join the club and my duty to fend off any harm Haruhi might decide to inflict on her. I immediately perceived in this girl a very tempting target for a lot of Haruhi's insecurities, and it spurred my sense of chivalry to think of myself as a ward or guardian. I also then realized that Haruhi has a great appreciation for anything that a guy might consider a turn-on (what she shamelessly calls "moe"), and I could picture Haruhi exploiting this to our mutual advantage. In the end, I think my libido won out over my manly pride. It was just too good an opportunity to pass on.

She then said, "Please feel free to call me Mikuru, if you like."

"Right," I said, filing that away as a lovely gesture (one that I would never actually presume to utilize).

"I'm sorry," she added, "but I feel like I already know you."

"How is that?" I asked.

She replied, "Miss Suzumiya has already spoken to me. Actually, she's told me quite a lot about you two."

"Really?" I said, wondering just exactly how much she knew.

"I'm a little embarrassed," she admitted, "but I really enjoy learning new things about this era. I mean, it's so fun and exciting."

"You like the food?" I asked. "Of this era, I mean."

"Oh, jeez," she complained. "Did I really say that? I meant to say this side of the city."

"Oh, okay."

"It's so boring where I'm from. We never get to do anything like go hunting for bigfoot."

Considering bigfoot doesn't really exist in this dimension, that would be a safe bet to make.

"I imagine you wouldn't," I admitted.

"And this school!" she softly exclaimed. "It's all so quaint."

"You like this school?" I asked.

"Uh huh," she answered. "I think it's just amazing."

"Well, good for you," I sincerely answered.

"Thank you," she said.

"You want to go to club with me?" I asked, though she had been walking with me since she had asked about the club in the first place.

"Is it okay?" she asked.

"It's fine," I answered, a little disconcerted that she would ask my permission, "it's just..."

"What?" she asked, looking honestly perplexed.

I then offered, "You don't have to join us, if you don't want."

"No, really!" she objected. "I want to join you guys. It's a lot of fun."

"Have you met Miss Nagato?" I asked.

"Miss Nagato?" she answered. "She's here?"

"You've already spoken to her?" I wondered.

"I..." she started, then looked down. "We've met."

"Okay," I said. "Just asking because she's in our club, too."

"Oh..." Asahina said, looking strangely nervous and ill-at-ease. "Well, that's okay, too. I suppose."

It then offended me like a thorn in my foot to think that I was just leading her into our club, like using string-tied bait to lure a rabbit into a pit trap.

"You know," I warned, "you're probably going to get recruited into making the tea."

"I am?" she answered. "How wonderful!"

I sighed and then muttered, "Why do I have this sinking feeling, all of a sudden?"

- x -

When I entered the club room, it became apparent what the augur in the back of my mind was trying to tell me. Here was Haruhi, sitting at the computer, growing increasingly frustrated as Koizumi just nicely shrugged in his usual way and Nagato remained glued to her book in the background, even more icy and unresponsive than usual.

"There you are!" Haruhi complained. "About time you showed up."

"Hey," I said.

"Hello," Miss Asahina said. "I hope you guys don't mind, but I..."

"Kyon!" Haruhi snarled. "Get your ass over here!"

"What?" I answered.

"This computer!" she complained, giving it a look of generic disapproval.

"What about it?" I asked, going to the other end of the table, where Haruhi had set up the computer.

"It's pissing me off," she answered, frowning deeply and folding her arms.

"What?" I asked, looking. "Oh."

I had stupidly left my shortcut to a script sitting on the desktop, and Haruhi had even more stupidly confused it for an application launcher. The script was a snippet of Perl that I wrote which was a handy way of giving myself the results of my steg-hidden picture access codes. Or (for the less technically inclined) a relatively big oops on my part.

"I keep getting asked for a password," she complained, clicking on one of the more obscure control panels for the network.

"You've finally figured it out," I noticed.

"What was that?" she asked.

"Nothing," I said. I explained, "Yes, I hid the home page in an encrypted folder. So what?"

"So what?" she said, looking a little outraged. "I want to put these photos on the home page. That's what. And not this fake page you made. You think you're so clever."

"Right," I said. "Let me just type it in."

"Forget it," she answered. "I'm not letting you touch the computer again. This is what I get for trusting you to handle this."

"You've gotta be kidding me," I said, trying to picture Haruhi using the computer with any level of sophistication.

"Does it look I'm kidding?" she demanded. "I want that password."

"Okay, okay," I said. "It's X-7-R-2-5-8-3-2-B..."

"Hold on..." she said. "What was that?"

"X-7-R-2-5-8..."

"X-7-R what?"

She wasn't even using the password right. She thought I was giving her the proxy password. Even I didn't know that.

I then looked at her, dumbfounded, and asked, "Are you messing with me? You're messing with me, aren't you?"

"I just want to have access to my computer," she complained.

"That isn't your computer," I pointed out. "That's the computer lab's computer that you stole from them."

I was being pedantic, but it's true. And anyway, the proxy was definitely not her computer. It was just some networked computer the computer club had agreed to let me use to host the real site.

I then explained (in terms she could understand), "And the web site you're trying to access is software that I set up by myself, thank you. Why are you so gung-ho about doing everything yourself?"

Haruhi then finally noticed Miss Asahina and demanded, "What are you doing here?"

"Is this the way you greet a new club member?" I asked, very disapproving.

"I'll greet people any damn way I please," she responded, glowering at me. "And who are you to tell me otherwise? I'm the commander in chief and dictator for life of this organization. Whatever I say goes! You have no right to object to anything I say."

"I'll object to whatever I want," I smoothly answered that. "What are you going to do? Throw a tantrum? Cry? Make up another stupid title for yourself?"

She looked like she wanted to slap me, but she just stood up and glared at me for several seconds. Then she picked up some hot tea she had handy and threw its contents in my face.

"You bastard!" she softly exclaimed. "How dare you talk to me that way!"

"Jeez," I said, wiping my face. "Haruhi..."

She then grabbed the book out of Nagato's hands and threw that at my head.

"Ow!" I said. "Calm down!"

"I will not calm down!" she screeched. "I don't care how much you or Yuki talk about me behind my back! But I will not have this insubordination! I'm the leader of this club! Me!"

"Why are you so upset?" I asked, very baffled at this hysterical outrage she was showing me.

"You want to know what really pisses me off?" she asked. "You don't really care about me. You don't! You just say you do, and then you try to foist me off onto one of Ryoko's friends! That's what pisses me off! You can just go to hell!"

I don't care about her? That upsets her? This, from a girl who has told me countless times that she doesn't want or need any kind of caring (or any kind of mushy emotions at all) from the likes of me.

"Whoa!" I said. "What are you telling me?" Was she really confessing how she felt, after all this time?

"I..." she started to explain. "I don't..."

She then ran from the room in the cutest display of embarrassment I have ever seen. It was like getting punched in the gut with the ugliest fist in her intangible arsenal, but also (in the process) making the most pleasant and beautiful realization I had ever had about her.

"Oh, jeez," Asahina lightly complained. "Was that my fault?"

"No," I answered. "This is something... I need to go. Sorry about all this."

- x -

I had no idea where Haruhi ran off to, but some kind of ugly gremlin in the back of my mind assured me of where to go. Sure enough, I found her on the school roof. Yes, it's cliche. Don't look at me. This was Haruhi's idea. Not mine.

"Sheesh," I softly complained, approaching her.

"I know what you're going to say," she told me, "so just forget it."

"You always say that, you know?" I told her.

"Do I?" she asked, still carefully looking away.

"Do you really know what I'm going to say?" I asked.

"Yeah," she answered. "You were going to apologize, right?"

"Not really," I muttered.

"Yeah, right," she remarked. "Like you would ever apologize. I should know better than that."

I shrugged and said, "I am sorry about the computer, but that's not what I wanted to say."

"What did you want to say?" she asked.

"Haven't we had this conversation?" I asked her. "I mean, seriously? Isn't this like the fifth or sixth time?"

"What?" she asked, looking at me.

This isn't the first time she's become furious with me and thrown a tantrum. This is the first time where the topic was how she felt or her outrage at my emotional indifference.

"You really think it would be bad if we dated other people?" I asked.

You have to admit, it was a compelling argument. If this is what we had to look forward to as a couple, maybe it wouldn't be such a bad idea to stop seeing each other.

"I mean," I added, "I thought you wanted to go out with one of Asakura's friends. I thought you didn't want to put up with me."

"You're right," she admitted. "We have had this conversation before. I can't remember how many times."

I remarked, "I thought you'd fall for Koizumi, for sure."

"Koizumi?" she said, clicking her tongue at me. "Yeah, right. I'd sooner fall for Taniguchi."

"You're always saying how much I smother you," I reminded her.

"That's right," she said. "I do always say that. I did. And you're right. I did always want to date someone like one of Ryoko's friends, but..."

"But?"

I was then forcibly reminded of the moment I had met her. Back when I was ten, I encountered her (as I said) in a train station. She had eagerly greeted me like she knew me. It was a little bizarre, and she couldn't explain it, but she said I reminded her of someone. She said that I was the "chosen one," and that I should know her. Weird. This is the first time I could remember her saying that.

She then explained, "I don't want to be one of those kind of people, you know? Someone who's always getting a lot of attention. I hate that."

"So, you naturally decided to be the leader of a club," I observed, a wry smile crossing my face.

"Hilarious," she grimly agreed with my expression.

I added, "And you decided to do a lot of crazy things that made you the center of attention, going to any length to prove how worthy you are of that attention that you hate so much."

"It's funny, isn't it?" she asked, smirking and chuckling a little at the thought.

"I don't see what's so funny about it," I remarked.

"I never really wanted it," she said. "I needed it. I craved it. It was like the core of my being."

Yeah. I knew about this. Haruhi once went to a baseball game, and she came back with the shocking (to her) realization that she wasn't the most important person in the world. There were thousands of other people just like her, and millions (even billions) all over the world. In fact, it so deeply shocked her that she's spent nearly every waking moment since then living in denial about that unassailable fact.

"From the time I first met you," she added, "all I could ever think about was how unimportant I was. Why couldn't I be someone special? Why couldn't my whole world revolve around me?"

I then asked, "If you really wanted so much attention, then why not do something that really was important? Why hang out with a group of crazy people like Koizumi and Nagato? Why even come to this school at all?"

"I know," she said. "It's crazy, isn't it?"

"You know what I want?" I asked.

"What?" she asked, but she really should have known.

I just wanted to kiss her, and I did. For once, it didn't seem strange or like I was trapped in some compulsion. For once, this was just the two of us, making some light contact. It was beautiful thing, and it didn't seem outrageous or unnatural. Nevertheless, she shortly pushed me away.

"What?" I asked.

"Someone might be looking," she complained.

"Sheesh," I said, a little disgusted at this shy side of her.

"I don't want Mikuru to see this," she said. "That girl cannot keep a secret. I just know this would get all over school, if she ever saw it."

I laughed, remarking, "You really are a wallflower. We should hold hands in the halls and make everyone around us furious with envy."

"I'll let everyone see you get slapped if you try it," she warned.

"Ouch," I said, picturing that. "You know, you're a lot friendlier when we're all alone."

She muttered, "I'm like a completely different person when we're alone."

"You can say that again," I agreed.

"No more crazy romantic things at school," she insisted. "You got that?"

"Yes ma'am," I answered, tickled by her sudden scowl (I knew she hated that response).

"All right."

"So, it's okay if Miss Asahina wants to join the club?"

"Don't push it. On top of everything else, I'm still upset about losing our bigfoot. And Ryoko going missing hasn't helped, either."

"Right. Forgot all about her."

- x -

Later that day, I got a call from Koizumi. He told me that there was club business that I had left unfinished, so I told him where I was. I had been hiding from the world in one of the many coffee shops you find all over this city. Koizumi shortly appeared, looking pleasantly surprised, as usual.

"Hey there," he greeted me. "I've been looking all over for you."

"You wanted something?" I asked.

"You mind if I sit down?" he asked.

"Go right ahead," I answered.

"Thank you," he said, sitting across from me. "It's so hard to have a good conversation with people standing around."

"Isn't that all you ever do at the club room?" I asked.

He softly laughed and admitted, "I do find myself in an odd position, yes."

"Why do you even belong to that club?" I then asked.

"Now, now," he nicely chided me. "You know I have my duties."

"So you say," I remarked.

He seemed a little nonplussed that I refused to believe his unlikely story of a group of espers in some secret organization. The more I thought about it, the less sense it made.

"I could call myself an esper," I said. "How would you know I wasn't?"

He replied, "I don't know how I would know, but I would."

"You would?"

"Trust me. It comes with the job."

"That, and all the crazy things you arrange for us to do."

"Ah, yes."

He never denied being an instigator. He always seemed delighted to make known to me his plots, and he even seemed relieved to find a sympathetic ear. I wondered about that, though. He never made his own aims clear.

"Or is that more about your ulterior motives?" I asked.

"What a thing it is to be an idiot," he pleasantly remarked.

"Excuse me?" I asked.

"I mean myself, of course," he hastily explained. "And here, I've been thinking that there was nothing going on between you and Miss Suzumiya."

"Any reason you should have known?" I asked. "You're just a guy we know from school. Or so I thought."

"Funny, how things worked out," he remarked. "I guess I shouldn't be upset, though you and Miss Asakura have really played me for a fool."

"She did?" I asked.

He answered, "I tried to speak with Miss Nagato, but it seems as though she blames me for the events of the previous couple days. Specifically, she seems to think I had something to do with Miss Asakura's disappearance."

"Why would she blame you?" I wondered.

"I don't know," he replied. "I've been puzzling over that incident, and I've reached the conclusion that Miss Asakura had conspired with you to ruin my plans."

"How did you reach that conclusion?"

"No one else knew about my plans but you, and you were the last one seen speaking with her. It stands to reason."

"Didn't Miss Tsuruya...?"

"Miss Tsuruya was never really a part of the plan. That was just a ploy to throw you off the real trail."

"I see."

Yes. This explained a lot. This didn't, however, explain Miss Nagato's cold attitude toward Koizumi. I wondered about that, but then I couldn't help but notice how Nagato stared at him quite a lot, and nearly always looked away whenever she noticed that I saw her staring at him. Quite an interesting girl, that Nagato.

"In fact," Koizumi added, "I had hoped that you might join Miss Suzumiya in her suspicions about Miss Tsuruya's true motives. I was hoping that that shared activity would bring you closer. That was the real plan."

"Sorry," I said.

"Why are you apologizing?" he asked. "You didn't know that Miss Asakura was going to disappear, did you?"

"No," I answered, "but I did know that she was up to something." And I was apologizing because I found his circumstances amusing.

"I see," he said. "I suppose she confronted you about Miss Suzumiya."

"Yeah," I said.

He then realized, "And you've convinced yourself that Miss Suzumiya is just an ordinary human being. Now it all makes sense."

"What do you mean?" I asked.

He answered, "Haven't you ever noticed how Miss Suzumiya always wished she could find aliens, time travelers, and espers? And now that she has, she isn't sure how to feel about it. She isn't sure whether this reality is better than the old reality. You've never even thought about all this?"

"I think only crazy people have thoughts like that," I replied, once again feeling pity for him.

"Have you spoken with Miss Asahina?" he asked.

"Yeah," I answered.

"So," he said, "you know what I was talking about, the other day. I mean, about her not being able to keep the fact that she's from the future a secret."

It was sadly as plain as the nose on her face that she thought she was from the future. Just as Koizumi thought he was an esper. Just as Nagato thought she was an alien. Whether I believed any of that... I just shoved it aside in my mind.

He then asked, "Miss Nagato is just one of many aliens that go to that school, you know?"

"How do you know?" I asked.

"It's my job to know," he answered. "One of the duties of the organization is keeping tabs on them."

"Why?" I then asked.

"I don't know why," he replied. "I don't feel like they can be trusted, though."

"They do say a lot of crazy things," I admitted. "That's true."

"So," he asked, "why are you still skeptical about all this? Or do you believe me?"

"It's not that I don't believe you," I dodged the question. "I just can't picture Haruhi as anything but a completely ordinary person."

"She is, actually," he informed me. Nice. Very helpful. "And, in a way, she isn't."

"Thanks a lot," I said, just a bit sarcastic.

- x -

I was a couple blocks from home when I noticed Miss Nagato approaching. She seemed her usual self, though I couldn't help but realize that she was nowhere near her own apartment.

I greeted her, "You here to torment me again? Or do you just like trying to freak me out with your crazy ideas?"

"I enjoy our conversations," she answered.

"You do, huh?" I asked.

She then explained, "I'm curious how you will react to your newly discovered abilities."

I mildly complained, "You keep saying that like I should expect it to be true."

"Perhaps I am jealous," she admitted.

I laughed and remarked, "That's a good one."

"Would that data be surprising?" she asked.

I then suggested, "Maybe you should just focus on your studies. Whatever those are."

"Maybe," she said.

I began walking toward home again, and she followed. I then stated, "It's not a bad thing to learn about people. Even the crazy way you choose to study me isn't something I dislike."

"You are not the target of my studies," she flatly answered that.

"I know," I said. "It's really Haruhi."

"That's correct," she said.

It was still early in the evening. I briefly had the thought that whatever she was hoping to observe might take quite a while longer for me to realize. I don't often knuckle down and concentrate on my own projects or homework until well after dark.

I then asked, "Do you really not know what happened to Asakura? Tell me the truth."

"Is it important for you to know?" she asked.

"I don't really care if she is an alien," I answered. "You don't just disappear like that. That isn't right. There has to be a reason."

"And what if there isn't one?" she then asked.

I wondered, "Are you trying to tell me that Haruhi made her disappear?"

"That could be a reason," she admitted.

"Is it?" I asked, getting a little tired of all this vagueness.

"Very well," she said. "I will tell you."

"Please," I prompted.

She explained, "Ryoko Asakura is convinced that you are the source of Haruhi Suzumiya's power, and that you use her as a kind of proxy."

"I..." I said, my mind blowing a fuse, I think. "How does that explain...?"

Nagato added, "She is manipulating you to see whether you can confirm her suspicions."

I quickly added this all up and then complained, "But I really can't just make her reappear. And how on Earth did she disappear in the first place?"

"I told you," she answered. "I am a humanoid interface. These things are not as difficult as you seem to think. Ryoko Asakura is my subordinate. That is the truth."

"This is all like some sci-fi story," I complained. "My life isn't like a book you can just pick up and read, you know?"

"I know," she said.

"So..." I prompted, not really sure what it was I expecting her to say.

We were standing just in front of my house, just as this situation was becoming most peculiar. This whole situation was just baffling. Yet, somehow, it got even more peculiar when I noticed Ryoko Asakura appear, walking around the corner and approaching us.

"Okay," I said, merely taking notice. "There she is."

"Interesting," Nagato said. "How did that happen?"

"I just thought..." I answered, thinking that I had just observed her appearing. I then had the appalling certainty that that was just some story I was telling myself. I then thought for a moment and admitted, "Or more like I told myself..."

"So," Asakura greeted us, "it's just as I suspected. You can show your true colors."

"What are you talking about?" I asked.

"Silly boy," she very nicely chided me. "You've always been afraid to take the plunge, you know? This isn't the first world."

"It isn't?" I asked.

"We were once lovers, actually," she confided. "Now that was a fun world."

I sighed, despairing a little. "More craziness? I thought we were about done with that."

"You still don't get it?" she complained. "This is your world. Everything that happens in this one is because you want it this way."

"Seriously?" I answered. "I don't think I'm this much of a masochist."

She then said, "I didn't say that this was the way you liked it to be. This is simply the most honest and straight-forward world possible. A world where you have a power that we want, and you can become aware of it."

Yeah, right. Maybe the most mixed-up, upside-down, backward world possible. The fact that she seemed so certain of herself was just boggling to my mind. How could anyone be so blind to the obvious truth?

"So," she then asked, "now that I've spelled it out for you, what do you think?"

"Of what?" I asked.

She continued, "Are you going to show us how it works, or are we going to have to keep doing this the hard way?"

"Hold on a second," I answered. "First of all, I don't really believe in this power you keep talking about."

"Why not?" she asked. "I unlinked myself from this existence and you brought me back. Is that not what happened?"

"It is," Nagato mysteriously confirmed.

"So," she surmised, "whether you can acknowledge it or not, you have it."

"Okay," I answered that, "even if I assume that that is true, that doesn't mean that I originated it."

"It doesn't?" she said, looking very perplexed.

I sighed and informed her, "Even Miss Nagato told me just yesterday that she gave Haruhi a suggestion that her powers were wielded by someone else."

"You did that?" Asakura asked her, looking a little alarmed.

"Yes," she answered.

"So," I added, "I might be able to wield it, but that doesn't mean I know anything about how it works."

"You told me that..." Asakura started to complain to Nagato.

"I lied," Nagato flatly answered.

For several moments, Asakura only gaped at Nagato, as if she were an ordinary girl who had just been told that aliens existed.

"So," I asked Nagato, "you encouraged her to think this way?"

She explained, "I was curious to see whether you could relink her to this data."

Ah. Bravo. I have to admit, I didn't think Nagato was capable of being this manipulative, but she really set me straight on that matter.

"No," Asakura said. "I don't believe it."

"You don't believe what?" I asked.

"I refuse to accept it," she repeated, looking as annoyed as I've ever seen her.

"Because it was my theory?" Nagato guessed.

"It's too coincidental," she answered. "Am I really supposed to believe that things just turned out this way? Eleven whole lifetimes of everything working out in some weirdly favorable way, and that doesn't seem suspicious? Do you take me for a fool?"

"You are malfunctioning," Nagato told her. "Your data is now becoming highly erratic."

"That's crap," Asakura bluntly answered that. "I think I see everything more clearly than ever. In fact, I'm going to prove it."

"How do you intend to do that?" Nagato asked.

"Simple," she said, taking out a nasty looking hunting knife. She then turned to me and said, "Now, you die."

She took a swipe at me, and I backed away just in time to avoid her attack.

"Whoa!" I said. "What the...?"

"Oh, come on!" she protested. "Surely, you don't think you have anything left to live for?"

"Why are you trying to kill me?" I asked.

"Why not?" she answered, taking another swipe at me.

Okay. This was just completely crazy, any way you look at it. Asakura thought that I have this super ultimate power, and so she was setting out to prove it by killing me? Did she expect me to die and then come back to life or something? Because I'm pretty sure that wouldn't work. And here was Nagato, just blandly watching. Was there no one in the house? Why weren't there any cars going by?

And, right as I thought that, a car did go by. A cat then mysteriously came leaping out the car window, landing on Miss Asakura's face, claws extended. Asakura fell over backwards in surprise, while this strange cat continued attacking her.

"Interesting," Nagato commented, which snapped me out of my shock.

"Miss Nagato?" I said.

"Yes?" she answered.

"Should you not be doing something about this?" I wondered.

"Oh," she said, taking a fresh double-take of her own. I guess even she has those moments that are shocking to her, too. She then held out her hand with her palm facing outward and muttered something incoherent. As I watched, Asakura then mysteriously dissolved into thin air, leaving nothing but the cat.

Nagato then turned to me and said, "I apologize. I was surprised to witness that, but it does explain quite a few things."

"It does?" I said, never more confused in my life than at that moment.

- Fin

- x -

- Extra

- A Blinking Light

Kyon is at Yuki's, and Ryoko blinks in and out of existence every few seconds.

Kyon: So, you know about the club room?

Yuki: Yes.

Kyon: And all those times in my bedroom and Haruhi's?

Yuki: ...

Kyon: You're a voyeur, huh?

Yuki: I do not observe. I note references.

Kyon: You're shy, then?

Yuki: I am not permitted to detail insignificant events.

Kyon: Ouch.

Yuki: I already manipulate four-point-seven exabytes of significant data in a standard Earth day. Details of trivial incidents would increase the data load by a factor of at least a thousand.

Kyon: That explains the style of this apartment.

Ryoko: Excuse me, but you could you...?

Yuki: Is there a purpose in this alternation?

Kyon: You did tell me to figure this out. So, I'm figuring it out.

Yuki: And what have you observed?

Kyon: It's difficult to say for sure. Like trying to catch salmon with your bare hands.

Yuki: Interesting.

Kyon: It's really fun, too. I mean, just imagine what I could do if I could control this. I could have an entire army of humanoid interfaces to do my every whim...

A short celestial appears, holding Shamisen.

Celestial: Okay. That's enough. Just cut that out.

Kyon: Okay.

The celestial disappears again, leaving Ryoko and Yuki with Kyon.

Ryoko: Are you done?

Kyon: Sorry about that.

- x -

- Subliminal

Author: So? What do you think? Not enough? Too much?

Proofreader: ...

Author: What?

Proofreader: I'm still trying to figure out what you're writing about.

Author: Isn't it obvious? This is the psycho killer version of Kyon. Just like we talked about.

Proofreader: It is?

Author: To be honest, it's more like my lame attempt at an homage to Robert Altman, with lots of callbacks to original Haruhi material. But, yeah. It is.

Proofreader: Oh, I get it. This is like Altman's favorite genre: a flurry of half-parody half-absurd incidents in an adventure type "story."

Author: I have to admit, I like his version of Popeye, but I've never been a big fan of musicals. I have mixed feelings on this subject. I like the way he tries to make everything happen all at once, though.

Proofreader: I think the word you're looking for is improvisation.

Author: The feeling of improvisation, yes. If your dialogue starts to sound scripted and contrived, then you're doing it wrong.

Proofreader: The cool thing about Altman is that his best work always keeps you wondering whether he isn't borderline insane. It has that nice, quirky, rambling, barely coherent style that's easily disguised in a simple, straight-forward narrative.

Author: I still find myself humming "Everything Is Food, Food, Food" every now and then.

Proofreader: A great subliminal artist. Alas, he passed away about six years ago.

Author: Yes. Very sad.

Proofreader: What were we talking about, again?

Author: (laughing) Exactly. This is what I'm talking about.

- x -